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The man seen by many New Zealander's as the defiant face of Maori protest at Waitangi Day commemorations can't suppress a broad grin.

Sitting at the dining room table of his home, north of Kaitaia, Hone Harawira chuckles when asked about the prospect of being welcomed at Waitangi this weekend - as a member of Parliament.

His booming laugh echoes through the warm, open-plan home he shares with wife, Hilda; two grandchildren and two of his seven children.

National politics, or perhaps last year's campaign trail when Harawira blazed across Northland pitching for votes, seem to have softened the once notorious hardman of Maori protest.

He was king of the heap of the "haters and wreckers" referred to by Prime Minister Helen Clark two years ago when she refused to meet the Foreshore and Seabed protest hikoi he was leading.

Harawira, 51, laughs at that also. But the inflammatory language has become more tempered.

Although not ruling out violent protest - in part because of the unpredictability of some of those attracted by the notoriety platform of Waitangi - he now calls for debate.

"We have to change the nature of our activity. For the last two years I have been pushing for it. We should be using Waitangi day as a benchmark for how we have progressed as a nation. That is what I'd like to see. If that involves protest then so be it. If it involves celebration, then that is okay too."

Harawira seems conflicted. There is reluctance to criticise protest action, because he has been in the thick of it for almost 30 years. However he accepts that the sometimes-violent acts have begun to erode public willingness to confront Maori loss and to recognise the treaty. The years of disruption and occasional violence have led to calls for a national day to be celebrated.

However, Harawira is proud of the achievement of protest.

"Three years ago there was no thought of a Maori Party in Parliament. Now we are here. The reality is way beyond what we hoped for."

Harawira was one of the founders of Kawariki, a protest group formed in the 1970s tasked with getting recognition for the treaty and for highlighting the plight of Maoridom. Many of the movement's members have gone on to influential positions.

Former New Zealand First MP Tuku Morgan and his brother-in-law and now National MP Tau Henare were once arrested at a Kawariki driven protest. Harawira laughs at that memory also.

"The primary goal was to raise people's awareness to the Treaty of Waitangi. Seeing the Treaty honoured. Look where we are now, we are in settlement mode. There is a hell of a lot more to do, but there have been a number of big changes.

"There is treaty fatigue because the Crown has handled it badly. Maori are getting blamed for the bad way the Crown have acted.

"I have no regrets about my protest actions. Why should I feel bad?"

Times are changing though.

"Who are the new Hone Harawiras? The hot blood, in-your-face protester? Where are the new ones? There aren't any."

A sign, he says, of the improvement in the way Maori are treated.

"I am proud to be a New Zealander. Let's get on with the day (Waitangi Day). If it is our national day, then we should be benchmarking our progress. I think Maori are right to celebrate a measure of economic independence. To celebrate our sense of survival. To celebrate the growth of our language. Maori television, Maori radio. Hell yes there are things to celebrate.

"For Pakeha, the economy has been good. Celebrate the knowledge that Pakeha are partners in the greatest nation on earth."

He does not expect much trouble at this year's event, but he can't give any assurances.

"I would be a fool to say there won't be protest. Things can happen on the day that spark trouble."

He believes that while Maori continue to trail in economic, social and health statistics, then protests will continue.

"New Zealand has a long way to go, as demonstrated by people's willingness to follow Don Brash's kick a nigger stance at last year's election.

"That's the challenge for me, to change the fear in people. To show people it is a day for nation building."

He believes not enough publicity is given to the more celebratory aspects of the event.

"This year 30,000 people are expected to be there. There is a waka ama, music and art displays and sports and stalls."

However, in the following breath the Harawira enigma returns, when asked if there will be a day when there will be no cause for protests.

"Labour and National are kidding themselves if they think the treaty can be signed off in a full and final way. It is ongoing." 

Protest veterans expect talk, not action

* Hinewhare Harawira

At 52, Hinewhare Harawira concedes that age has diminished her enthusiasm for confrontation.

A big woman, she has often been seen as the most unpredictable of the more recognised members of the protest movement, unafraid to use her fists if required.

Protest at Waitangi has seen her arrested numerous times - she has lost count - and resulted in two six-month jail stints.

It has been more than 10 years since Harawira was arrested for spitting at Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard, earning one of her prison terms.

She is unrepentant about the action, or for any disruption she has been involved in over the past 20 years.

This year she will support her brother, and get more involved in the forums and promoting the Maori Party.

She believes there will be protest but it is unlikely to be the "in-your-face" variety that has marred past events.

Harawira says the protest movement has made significant gains for Maori, including wider public understanding of the Treaty, progress with Treaty settlements and the formation of the Maori Party.

"Protest will continue, but there is a need now to work diplomatically." 

* Ken Mair

Ken Mair has been a fixture of the protest movement for more than 20 years. From the occupation of Wanganui's Moutoa Gardens, to disrupting a TV One news broadcast in the mid-90s, the diminutive Whanganui iwi member has regularly been in the limelight.

Mair will not attend commemorations at Waitangi this year, instead marking the occasion with local Whanganui iwi.

He now works as a Treaty claims negotiator, and employment advocate. He was a key adviser to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia during last year's election.

He believes this year's commemorations will involve "vibrant dialogue and debate" at Waitangi, rather than the more physically confrontational approaches of the past.

Mair says protests have brought Maori some gains, although there is still a long way to go.

He declines to give his age, other than to say he is "considerably younger than Hone Harawira".

He wouldn't hesitate about re-entering the thick of protest action.

"If further action is required then I will take the same action. The strategy of direct action will still be utilised."

* Mike Smith

Mike Smith sprang to national infamy in 1994 when he took a chainsaw to One Tree Hill's lone pine. While it was this action that made him notorious in households around the country, for Smith it was just one event in years of action to highlight the plight of Maori, and to draw attention to lingering grievance.

Smith has been attending Waitangi protests for more than 20 years, and will be attending this year's commemorations.

He has become heavily involved in the organisation of events at Te Tii marae, and was instrumental in the creation of a number of political and cultural forums being hosted at this year's event. Last year he was responsible for media liaison for the marae.

He does not believe protest will be as fierce as it has been in the past, but adds that the event has become a beacon for the disaffected and confused who see the occasion as a chance to make a name for themselves.

He believes Waitangi Day is the one time Maori sit in a position of dominance when dealing with the Crown, and because of this, it is appropriate to air grievances.

"It is the one time the Crown have to come calling on us."

Events on the day

* Ceremonies begin with a karakia at 5.30am. Waka then gather at Te Tii Bay, weather and tide permitting, and at noon the Royal New Zealand Navy will fire a 21-gun salute. During the day there are sports events and a variety of entertainment, and at sunset the Navy beats the retreat and lowers the flag.

* Hoani Waititi Marae: A chance to experience traditional powhiri, karanga, challenge, waiata and hongi. There will be explanations of the Treaty and Maori protocol, refreshments, performances and activities. The powhiri starts at noon, and the event ends at 4.30pm. All welcome; entry free.

* Hayman Park, Manukau City: A multicultural musical celebration with dance, food and craft stalls, as well as an online Treaty workshop and a traditional Maori arts workshop. Gates open at 10am; all welcome; free.

* A free family day of entertainment, fun and Treaty awareness at Innes Common, with food and crafts and children's events. The powhiri begins at 7am, on-stage entertainment begins at 8am and the waka ceremony at 11am.

Bay Of Plenty
* Local iwi Ngaiterangi host a concert which includes local bands Kokomo Blues, Torch Songs, The Blackout Cru and Brilleaux Fusion. Kapa haka and an art exhibition add to the free fun, at Mt Maunganui's main beach from noon.

* Ethnic communities come together in Frank Kitts Park in a free event hosted by tangata whenua. It combines kapa haka, Cook Island drumming, Bollywood dance, Latin American dance and more, from 12.30pm.